The Rise of Skywalker Review

Disclaimer: These are just opinions, and you can disagree.

There have been some Star Wars movies that are bad films but good Star Wars stories. And there have been some Star Wars movies that are good films but bad Star Wars stories. Never has there been a Star Wars movie that is both a bad film and a bad Star Wars story until now. The Rise of Skywalker is the most disappointing film in the entire saga and destroys the significance of what the last 42 years of Star Wars has built up to. I was shocked and saddened by what has become of my favorite story of all time.

Major spoilers ahead!

Here’s what I liked:

  • There is action in every single moment of this film. Literally almost every second of it. It’s packed to the brim and is an excellent film for young kids who may want to see cool things on the screen over a cohesive story.
  • Kylo’s turn back to Ben Solo was fantastic
  • Beautiful score as always
  • Beautiful visuals as always
  • Adam Driver

Here’s what I disliked:

Palpatine and the impermanence of death

I tweeted this the morning of the world-wide release of TRoS:

“Two things should (generally) be left alone in sci-fi: the permanence of death and the continuity of time.”

Never has this been more true than for the Star Wars universe. Yes, I am aware cloning exists. But for force users, and more so for Palpatine, it seems a bit cheesy. The first 6 films tell an absolutely beautiful story. As best summed up by a YouTube comment I recently read on AtinPiano’s video:

“A son who lost his mother. A man who lost his way. A person who lost his humanity. But a father who never lost his son.”

This is the story of Anakin. This is the rise, fall, and redemption of Anakin. And part of Anakin’s story involved defeating the darkness within him. This was more than just “switching off” the evil. The persona of Vader was completely distinct from Anakin. They were two different people in Vader’s head, and Anakin had to defeat this mental block. The end of Return of the Jedi where Anakin sends Palpatine falling to his death in order to save his son is the final moment of Anakin Skywalker. With the death of Palpatine, this concludes Anakin’s arc bringing balance to the force. And that’s it.

Bringing Palpatine back completely destroys Anakin’s arc and makes Anakin’s role in this universe as the Chosen One meaningless. During her fight with Palpatine, Rey is on the ground staring in to the stars and all the Jedi are speaking to her, and we can hear Anakin’s (Hayden Christensen’s) saying “Bring balance to the force, as I once did.” I was surprised they put this in the film. If Anakin has brought balance to the force already, why is this entire movie happening? Did the force, a mystical energy seemingly as old as time itself, go out of balance in the last ~30 years again? Such a powerful story over the course of the first six films completely devalued.

Here are two other ways they could have brought back Palpatine in a decent way. Bring back Palpatine, but bring back Anakin as well. Their stories are tied together. Here’s a great example of how to bring back old characters. In 1999, we watched Obi-Wan Kenobi kill Darth Maul in Episode 1. Then in Rebels, Maul was brought back only to die at the hands of Obi-Wan once more in a duel that thematically put a close to their fight (Maul tried using his same aggressive tactics against Obi-Wan, but Obi-Wan had “risen above” and defeated him in one strike). After watching this episode of Rebels, the net effect is the same. Maul still dies at the hands of Obi-Wan. This ensures that viewers who saw their original fight many years ago don’t feel that the story has all of a sudden been changed. It ensures that the impact of their original fight remains intact. Similarly, Palpatine is killed by Anakin Skywaler at the end of Episode 6. So he must once again die at the hands of Anakin Skywalker. Similar to the Obi-Wan and Maul final fight, this “rematch” could thematically add to their original fight while ensuring the impact of their original fight remains intact. Make Palpatine’s return an apparition or amalgamation of the Sith spirits in the temple, but leave his physical body alone. Something similar is done in the Clone Wars animated series where Yoda is able to speak to Darth Bane’s spirit at his resting place. This ties into the “No one’s ever really gone” without reducing the significance of death.

How does Rey manage to defeat Palpatine? Palpatine was one of the most powerful Sith lords, and even Vader, the most powerful force user of all time could not defeat him. Not to mention even Yoda, the Grandmaster of the Jedi Council failed at defeating him. How does Rey, someone with very little training, defeat him so easily? This undermines the the all-powerful Emperor.

The inclusion of the Emperor was way too forced. He has absolutely no reason for being the villain here. Anyone else as the villain would have made more sense. Palpatine and Vader go together. As characters, they help develop each other in the films. Palpatine was there throughout Anakin’s life planting the seed for evil, manipulating him from behind the curtains. He absolutely does not matter to Rey and Kylo. Rey and Kylo’s story and conflict between them is what matters.

Why are all the Sith living in Palpatine? It does not make sense. Maybe metaphorically it makes sense, as he is the last of the Sith. But I do not think Darth Bane, Nihilus, Plagueis, Tenebrus, Vader, and more are living within Palpatine. “That’s not how the force works!” Palpatine was coaxing Rey to strike him down in anger so he could transfer his essence into her. But that’s not why he coaxes people into killing him. He doesn’t want a Jedi to strike him down in anger so he can literally transfer his essence into them. He does this, because he wants the Jedi to feel the satisfaction of giving in to their hatred, their rage. By doing this, the Jedi who strikes Palpatine down will begin their path into the dark side and become a Sith, which subsequently continues the legacy of the sith. Palpatine wants the Sith to live on. He doesn’t care whether it’s him that lives or someone else, he just wants the Sith legacy to live on.

Palpatine’s bloodline is not the same as the Skywalker bloodline, so while it makes sense for Ben Solo to be so powerful in the force since his grandfather is Anakin Skywalker, it does not make sense for Rey to be so powerful because her grandfather is Emperor Palpatine. Anakin is “The Chosen One.” Not only is he prophesied to bring balance to the force, but he is scientifically the most powerful force user with a midichlorian count over 20,000. Thus, someone with the “Skywalker blood” is genetically more likely to be more attuned to the force. However, this is not how the Palpatine bloodline works. While Emperor Palpatine is definitely gifted in the force, Palpatine became powerful because he is a twisted man who spent years practicing, studying, and submerging himself into the dark side. Emperor Palpatine’s force ability is learned and not just gifted to him. Making Rey this powerful because of her lineage does not make sense.

How did Palpatine survive? In Return of the Jedi, Anakin Skywalker throws Emperor Palpatine kilometers down a reactor shaft in the second Death Star. Moments later, Palpatine explodes. This was such a conclusive and satisfying end that bringing him back in Episode 9 is a huge retcon. In addition, I do not think Rey has to be connected to someone to make her a great character.

More on the impermanence of death…. everyone in this movie dies only to come back a few minutes later. It’s okay if people die in movies. It adds weight and significance to actions.

  • Palpatine — see above
  • C3PO — We have lost C3PO before in Episode 3 where his memory gets wiped. It makes sense to leave his memory wiped. He made a sacrifice for his friends. That’s what happens in wars. People make sacrifices for the greater good.
  • Chewbacca — The multiple transport situation leaving Pasana was confusing. The audience is shocked to see Rey’s dark power when she accidentally shoots force lightning at the transport we think Chewbacca is on. Rey loses control. She gets angry at Kylo Ren. Rey should have been punished for losing control. Giving in to rage and anger is not the Jedi way. Instead there is no consequence for her tapping in to her dark side power.
  • Finn — This is the second time Finn has tried to make a valiant sacrifice only to be rescued at the last minute.
  • Kylo Ren — Rey stabs Kylo with a killing blow through the abdomen only to force heal him back to life seconds later. More on my problems with this below.
  • Ben Solo — Falls to his death only to climb back out with just a sprained leg a couple minutes later
  • Rey — Dies fighting Palpatine only to be resurrected by Ben Solo moments later

Extreme force healing and the force in general

In general, I felt this film lacked an appreciation and understanding of the force—turning the force into a superpower and the force users into superheroes. Once again, “That’s not how the force works!” The force, the Jedi, the Sith, the light, the dark are all nuanced concepts borrowed from Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Indian mythology. This movie throws a lot of that beautiful nuance away in favor of mere spectacle.

Extreme force healing defeats the purpose of a lot of these movies. In the famous opera scene from Revenge of the Sith, Palpatine tells Anakin about Darth Plagueis, “He had such a knowledge of the dark side, he could even keep the ones he cared about from dying.” Part of Anakin’s epic turn to the dark side and transformation into Darth Vader was because he wanted to save his wife from dying in childbirth. To keep people from dying is an ability Plagueis nor Palpatine fully understood. Such a mysterious power yearned for by the most powerful force users comes without any problem to both Rey and Ben Solo. Both of them save each other from dying in this film using an extreme form of force healing. Why does this come so easily to them? In the first six films, because of this power, we see genocide, war, and suffering at a galaxy-wide scale. Now, even a force user with little training is able to leverage this power.

Also, since when could force ghosts interacting with the physical world? Was this just introduced in this movie? It makes sense that Yoda could control things like the weather and bring down lighting, but Luke’s force ghost caught a physical lightsaber in his hand. Becoming a force ghost was supposed to be “more powerful than you can possibly imagine” on a spiritual level, not a physical one. Adding this element of still interacting with the physical world feels wrong.

The concept of Rey and Ben being a “diad in the force” seemed forced into this movie. It is actually believable that they share this special bond, but it is not so believable that this special bond, which was just introduced this movie, gives them miraculous powers far beyond the wildest dreams of any Jedi or Sith.

Han Solo should have been Anakin Skywalker

When Kylo Ren is about to turn back to the light side and become Ben Solo again, he sees a vision/memory of his father, Han Solo. I strongly believe this should have been Anakin Skywalker instead. Kylo spent most of the sequel trilogy speaking to Darth Vader via Vader’s burnt mask. It makes so much sense after all that time for the other side of Darth Vader to appear before Kylo to turn him to the light. Darth Vader is to Kylo Ren as Anakin Skywalker is to Ben Solo. George Lucas says, “It’s like poetry. It rhymes.” This could have been one of those moments.

Pacing

This movie moves way too fast and leaves almost no time for proper character development. It jumps from one McGuffin to the next at breakneck speeds. From Ochi’s ship to the dagger to the Death Star to the wayfinder—it becomes a bit too convoluted, and as an audience, it becomes clear that this is a plot-driven story and not a character-driven story. This is really unfortunate, as Star Wars films have always been about the characters.

The Kiss

The audience in my showing of the film laughed at this moment. First, it felt out of place. Second, in my opinion, it felt like it took away from Rey’s independence as a female protagonist. Third, it felt very Disney. The Prince of Alderaan and Empress Palpatine is kind of cute though.

Lack of Restraint

Episode 9 felt like a Michael Bay Transformers sequel. And this is not a knock against the Transformers movies, but they have their time and place, and so does Star Wars. The two should be very different. There was too much of everything and the whole thing was way too fast.

Rey taking the Skywalker name

At the end of the film, when the woman who is passing by the Skywalker home on Tatooine asks Rey for her last name, she says “Skywalker.” This was a perfect moment to close this theme of “it doesn’t matter where you come from or what your past is—you can still be good.” With this theme in mind, Rey should’ve embraced who she is and said “Palpatine” knowing with complete certainty that she will only bring good to the galaxy.

Conclusion and random thoughts

They had good characters. Rey, Kylo, Finn, Poe—all portrayed by fantastic actors. I think the biggest downfall is that the sequel trilogy borrowed the wrong things from the original trilogy. Nostalgia is best used in moderation—served as the icing on the cake and not as the main dish. If it were up to me, I would have omitted Palpatine altogether. There is enough of a story to tell between Rey and Kylo alone.

Star Wars films in order from favorite to least favorite: Episodes 3, 6, 5, 4, 7, 8, 1, 2, 9.

Up until this film, I really disliked The Last Jedi. I thought its treatment of Luke was unfair and out of character. I wholeheartedly disagree with the breaking point for Kylo’s turn to the dark side after Luke momentarily pulls his lightsaber on his young student. I felt this action was out of character and odd for a man who believed there was still a flicker of light in the darkest soul in the galaxy. However, with that aside, I look back on that film and think of the beautiful moments. Where Kylo and Rey team up, back to back, and fight the Praetorian guards. Or when Luke singlehandely holds off the entire First Order with just a “laser sword.” On that ending scene—that was actually the most Jedi thing Luke has ever done. Without even picking up a weapon, hurting a single soul, or even physically being there, Luke saves everyone, sacrifices no one, and saves the day—all without moving a single muscle. Now that is Jedi af.

TL;DR

Episode 9 is an action packed film. However, it is by far the weakest Star Wars movie. In addition, it ruins the story that George Lucas originally created.


Written on December 27, 2019